By Riyana Razalee
The controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry is growing. As S2G Ventures noted, “With increased demonstration of the viability of controlled growing and ability to address current supply challenges, we predict CEA will grow 5x in US market share over the next 10 years”. In tandem with this growth, the demand for high quality talent is increasing. For graduates that are trying to enter the CEA industry, these are some things that can be done in order to equip oneself as best as possible to get a seat at the table.
#1: Get familiar with the industry
For those who have been following the CEA industry closely, you’ll notice how quickly the industry grows and shifts. From the rise of SPAC deals, a faster route for large and enterprise level farms to enter the public markets compared to an IPO (eg: AeroFarms and AppHarvest), to the increasing number of vertical farms moving towards growing strawberries, which for many years was a challenge due to concerns such as pests, weeding, and fungal diseases. As such, graduates need to a keep a close eye on the industry.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to sign up for industry newsletters and research platforms. A few that we highly recommend are iGrow News, Vertical Farm Daily, as well as AgFunder News. Set aside time each week to read and learn about the trends. Importantly, spend some time analyzing these trends and see if you can form your own opinion about where the industry is moving. This allows you to have informative conversations in the future with industry specialists.
#2: Expand your learning beyond the CEA industry
The crux of what the CEA industry offers is essentially a sustainable agriculture solution. However, with any industry, there isn't one sole solution that will fix it all. In order to manage this, there needs to be a holistic approach towards agriculture-based solutions. Often times, this means collaborating with other industries that can fill any sustainability gaps. This could look like anything from water management solutions, such as our partnership with KETOS, a turnkey closed loop system, to the usage of solar panels on shipping container farms in order to reduce energy costs, a common challenge for many indoor farms.
It’s key that you keep a pulse on how other industries are expanding. This could give valuable insight into any potential technology collaborations. When you bring these ideas to CEA companies, they may or may not run with it. But it shows that you’re looking at the broader picture, which is immensely helpful as many farms continue to scale up either within or beyond their region.
#3: Visit Indoor Farms Near You
While we understand that this may not necessarily be possible for everyone, for those that do have access to indoor farms in the area, there is nothing quite as valuable as visiting it in-person and being able to ask the farmers questions on-the-spot. An example of a farm that offers in-person tours is Farm.One. Alternatively, visit a food retailer near you because some of them may have indoor farms on-site, such as Krogers and InFarm or Whole Foods and Plenty. If neither of these options work, there’s always online tours. Freight Farms is a great example of this with their virtual open houses which occur frequently. The options are endless, so take your pick!